Thursday, 2 August 2012

Pussy Riot: artists in a tradition




Bursting into a church to denounce God, the Bishop and the President and patriarchy in general to the sound of some screechy punk rock may not be everyone's idea of the best way to change hearts and minds. But if Nigel Farage had interrupted a church service to sing a song urging withdrawal from the EU or a reduction in immigration, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't demand he was locked up for 7 years, and I don't think the government would be making special efforts to do so. I'd either laugh or clap or get cross, kick him out and then ridicule him. I wouldn't want him tried, deprived of food and sleep, and put in a cage. That's why I support Amnesty International's campaign against of the current imprisonment of the Russian artists/musicians/activists Pussy Riot, which you can read about, and join in with, here


I'm not quite as excited as Suzanne Moore is about Pussy Riot, but it does seem rowdy young thinkers and artists can still rattle the cages of Power. I was reminded there is a tradition of using churches to create eye-catching events. A group of Lettrists, precursors to the Situationists, and thus grandfathers to the first set of punks, and some kind of ancestors to Pussy Riot, pronounced that God was dead in Notre Dame in Paris in 1950. (This is covered in the classic examination of punk/situationism and much more besides, Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus.) 




They were actually saved from 'the mob' by the police, and then one spent only a few weeks in prison before being released, whilst the intellectuals of the country debated the worth or otherwise of the gesture, the French mainly respecting the first word of their national motto.


One could ask what would happen if a group of young artists similarly 'invaded' Westminster Abbey.  The last few years' rough justice for protestors and 'rioters' alike suggests the answer is not what I would prefer - shredding of any artistic license, vilification in the Express and the Mail,  a late night appearance before a magistrate, and a fast van to jail, not passing GO, not collecting £200 being most likely - means we might not compare with Putin's Russia quite as well as we (some of us?) would like to assume. This should not prevent us responding to these artists' situation, then thinking about what we do at home too. Nor should it stop us raising ongoing concerns about freedom of speech in Putin's Russia. After all, next to the deaths of many journalists in Russia, even this sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut trial is relatively restrained.

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